As I was watching the GOP debate, I was wondering who would get the nomination. Now, lots of people more obsessed than I will write reams of opinions about what the candidates actually said, and who would be the best at the job, and all that stuff that seems mostly irrelevant to elections. I, on the other hand, have a completely untested decision-making method to determine who the GOP should nominate as their candidate. Not who actually will get the nomination, mind you, but who should get it if the Republicans want to win the general election. Sure, my method has only a passing acquaintance with reality (or maybe less – maybe they made eye contact across a crowded room once), but so does the primary system.
My theory is that, most of the time, the better-looking candidate will win the general election. Since television, and now the internet, are such a dominant part of any electoral race, we are treated to images of the candidates almost as often as we hear information about them – probably more often, in many cases. Americans tend to elect Presidents based on who they like. Since physical attractiveness is a major component of likeability, Americans as a whole are more likely to vote for attractive candidates. Now, I don’t think that this effect is as strong in the party primaries, possibly because the people who vote in primaries are more involved with the actual issues than the general electorate. So, the parties nominate candidates based on how liberal or conservative they are, or how good they are at politics, then the general public elects a president based on (1) which party they have always voted for, (2) which candidate they can admit to voting for without being ostracized by their friends, or (3) how good-looking he is. Since winning the general election in recent years has usually been dependent on swing states, #3 can carry the election.
Let’s see how this worked in the last few elections:
McCain’s not a bad looking guy, especially considering what he’s been through, but he was clearly overmatched. Now, the YOUNG McCain would have given him a run for his money.
One word: Lincolnesque.
Pretty much an even race, looks-wise. AND LOOK HOW CLOSE IT WAS.
If you review the elections back for several more decades, most of them were won by the better-looking guy. Those that arguably weren’t (like H. W. Bush vs. Dukakis) usually had some strong mitigating factors (like Bush’s association with Reagan).
So, if the GOP wants to beat Obama in the 2012 election, they need to find a better looking guy to run against him. Do the hopefuls who were in the New Hampshire debate have any chance against him? Let’s see:
Rick Santorum: He talks like his jaw has been wired shut. Only his lips move, and his eyebrows make him look sad. He’ll never win against Obama.
Michele Bachmann: She is gorgeous. She also doesn’t look like she’s trying too hard to be gorgeous, and she looks intelligent. I don’t know how being female might affect the electoral calculus, but she might have a shot. (She also has 23 foster kids! Oops, relevance alert – back to the fluff!)
Newt Gingrich: Come on. As much as I would LOVE having a President named after an amphibian, it’s not gonna happen. If it’s any consolation, his well-reinforced hair will protect him if he’s ever caught in a natural disaster, like a landslide or a tornado.
Mitt Romney: O.K., Romney might have a shot. He’s a bit above average for a politician, looks-wise, and smiles a lot. It does distract from the slight creepiness. In the end, though, I think the creepiness would work against him.
Ron Paul: He reminds me of the crazy uncle that everyone tries to keep off the subject of politics at the family reunion. Am I the only one who thinks his head is shaped like a triangle? He’s entertaining. I hope he sticks around for a while, but he’ll never beat Obama.
Tim Pawlenty: Yawn. You could meet him half a dozen times and still not be able to pick him out of a crowd. He needs to wear a sparkly suit or something.
Herman Cain: He looks solid, honest and intelligent. He actually might have a chance. Although not as young and cool as Obama, he is still a good-looking man. Repeatedly mentioning his grandkids makes him seem even more dependable and sweet. I’m tempted to say something about how nice it would be if being a CEO became a viable path to the Presidency, but I’ve already pushed my luck in this post with one almost-relevant comment.
My conclusion: Based on my completely frivolous criteria, and completely disregarding their policy or experience, out of the seven GOP presidential hopefuls at the New Hampshire debate, only two have any chance of winning against Obama: Bachmann and Cain. Cain, however, is not as smooth and polished as a career politician, which probably will be a problem if he ever debates Obama. Bachmann has a good command of the facts and figures, plus a confident, well-organized and concise style. I think she has the best shot. Now I’ll wait and see what happens!
Note: This blogger used a similar method to evaluate some of the GOP contenders; he notes that the more likeable and personable candidate has won elections in the last few decades. He thinks that Bachmann, Pawlenty, and Thune (who was not in the debate) may have a chance.